As the end of season looms across most of Europe, appearing over the mountain is this summer’s transfer window travelling circus. Already the infamous ‘My dad owns a dog who knows the owner of Chelsea’ and my personal favorite “I saw it on Twitter, so it must be true” are already beginning to surface with some flamboyant rumours and gossip. Anybody who is a member of a forum, a social networking site or a consumer of newspapers and websites will know all about this comical bi-annual occurrence.
I don’t want to touch upon the deals that may happen from July 1st until the end of August. Instead I am going to focus on another aspect of the window…money spent and footballers’ price tags. Or more importantly, how much is too much and do you need to spend a substantial amount of money to acquire a top player?
This blog idea came about after watching Kaka in the Champions League semi final on Wednesday night. When he joined Real Madrid for a staggering €65 million in 2009, most of us thought he would be come the focal point of the team in the new Galacticos era. However his stock has plummeted since then and his fall from grace was evident after a less than impressive cameo appearance against Bayern Munich. Mesut Ozil now occupies his place in the side even though he only cost €15million, proving price tags are irrelevant when choosing a first choice 11.
Recent history dictates that the more money you spend, the more overflowing your silverware cabinet is. That appeared to be true as teams like Chelsea expensively assembled sides to win multiple trophies. But the football waters are not as crystal clear anymore and clubs are looking at alternative ways to gain success, whilst streamlining operational costs. Only the super rich clubs (Manchester City being the main protagonist) can carry on with this model, with others counting out every penny like a sullen faced bank cashier. The crafty owners getting the most out of their money appear to be the ones sporting the biggest smiles in 2012.
It is difficult to look at every individual player and compare their season to one of their ‘cheaper’ counterparts. However the evidence is there to suggest big money can mean a big headache. Being slightly biased, I would take £500k Darron Gibson over £20million Jordan Henderson every day of the week. No doubt a feeling that is matched by the majority of football chairmen and presidents across Europe. Other examples include Papiss Cisse who is an inspired signing for a quarter of Andy Carroll’s fee, Pablo Piatti only costing a third of the price that acquired Santi Cazorla and Miroslav Klose scoring as many goals as Fabio Quagliarella with a cool £10million being the difference between their respective transfer fees. A big price tag doesn’t necessary mean a game changer or a talisman. Now I am not blinkered enough not to acknowledge that some players have lived up to the hype and expense, with the likes of Javier Pastore, Gokhan Inler, Sergio Aguero and Manuel Neuer excelling at their clubs this season. But would other players have done a similar job for a fraction of the price? Say a Jelavic or Demba Ba….
Rafts of teams across Europe have invested heavily but appear to be coming up short of expectations. Juventus (if AC Milan pip them for the Serie A title), Roma, Barcelona, Man City, PSG, Malaga, Valenica, Liverpool and even Sporting Lisbon (over €20million spent) might, away from the prying eyes and bat-like ears of the media, perceive this season as a failure. The odd cup victory shouldn’t distract from the bigger picture that the big investment on big named players hasn’t worked. In literal terms, it has cost Liverpool over £100 million to secure the Carling Cup. Are fans of these clubs really that happy? There is a sizable gap between ‘stepping in the right direction’ and failure. These clubs’ seasons plunge into the latter in my opinion.
AC Milan, Man Utd and Real Madrid (only one major monetary signing) may well be the champions of their top-flight division in the next few weeks without spending over the odds. In my view, this year’s star performers have included Newcastle, Everton, Norwich, Swansea, Montpellier, Lille, AZ, Schalke and of course Ath Bilbao. They have pieced together underestimated squads that are skillful, passionate and have a strong work ethic, capable of mixing it with their more affluent brothers and sisters. Some members of the press, and sections of supporters, may state these clubs punch above their weight. Maybe that is true in terms of spend, but is also extremely disrespectful in terms of talent. After all, the fee placed on someone’s head is not necessary how much he is actually worth.
We can discuss the bargains for this summer’s transfer window closer to the time, but John Marc-Bosman’s legacy dictates that an ever-expanding pool of quality players are available for free, or players in the final year of their contracts now command a smaller transfer fee. A £20 million player is great for season tickets sales and media hype, but is fanfare worth the outlay.
Now I am not saying a team of motivated Emile Heskeys will dominate the Premier League, but with Glasgow Rangers as a prime example, the current global economic problems will hit soccer, and it may well come down to survival of the shrewdest. In my opinion, just like your high street discount stores, the penny pinchers (or cent pinchers for our European cousins) and the bargain hunters shall emerge as victorious.